Friday, February 9, 2007

Loon in a Box

Friday, February 9, 2007
While I was birding along the Cape Canaveral National Seashore in late January with Scott Weidensaul, Lisa White, and Liz DeLuna Gordon, our group was approached by a female park ranger who asked us if we were birders. The immediate follow-up question was: "Can you identify that bird on the beach up there by the guy in the blue jacket?"

Even though it was a quarter-mile away, we could see it was a large bird--almost certainly a common loon--and it was on the sand, looking fairly listless.

The ranger said, "I thought so. That's about the twenty-fifth one I've found this winter. Young loons come down here each winter and get dunked a few times in the surf and end up on shore. They don't know how to get back out to the open water. The ones we don't find probably starve or die of thirst. I'm going to get that one. Y'all can come and watch if you want."

We did want.

So we followed the officer up the access road to the next beach boardwalk. And by the time we'd gotten there, she was already coming back to the parking lot with the loon secured in a giant plastic box, complete with lid and breathing holes.
"I keep this box in my cruiser for this very thing. I'll bet I've saved 20 loons this winter already."


We helped her load the box into her cruiser and followed her to an embayment a few miles away. This was where she let all the foundered loons go. It's a quiet lagoon on the bayside of the barrier island--perfect for a loon to get its wits back while doing a bit of easy fishing.


"I release them here and if they've got the will to live, they do fine on this lagoon until they're strong enough to take off. If they don't have the will to live, at least they're not on the beach, where the tide or something else will get them," she explained.

The ranger reached in and grabbed the young loon to set it free. Just then it gave the most haunting, spine-tingling series of high yodels--that quintessential call of the wild. I got chills and we alll just gasped in amazement. What a special moment!


As the ranger waded into the shallows and lowered the loon to the water, it gave yet another yodel, then struggled free and swam away, tentatively at first, then more strongly. When it began periscoping its head to look for food, we knew this one had the will to make it. We watched the young loon swim out to the middle of the lagoon, past several fishermen in kayaks. It began diving and preening. All was (at least temporarily) right with the world.


What a nice thing to be part of in the middle of a day of birding. And what a caring person the ranger was, to take time out of her work to help a fellow creature in need and to let us be a part of the experience. I was happy we'd visited into the Cape Canaveral National Seashore.

It held, for us, wonders unforeseen.



Apologies for the super-sized photos. Had to use Flickr, coz Blogger was acting more like Frogger.


On February 9, 2007 at 11:58 PM BWJones said...

Awesome story... Thank you.

On February 10, 2007 at 1:17 PM Lodi said...

One dark and rainy night, we rescued an immature C. Loon from a Wally-Mart parking lot. Poor thing must have mistaken the glare from the rain water off the nearly deserted lot as a safe haven from the late fall storm. I was amazed by the actual size and heft of the loon! We released him/her on a nearby pool of the the Yough River none the worst for the wear. As we had no container to put him/her in I wrapped the bird snuggly in my coat to prevent him from trashing about, he thanked me with a large gift of loon pooh deposited on my nearly new jacket! A small price to pay to touch something wild.

On February 10, 2007 at 3:44 PM Anonymous said...

Great story with a happy ending. As a native Minnesotan, common loons hold a special place in my heart as they are the Minnesota State Bird.
Christine K
Takoma Park, MD

On February 10, 2007 at 7:02 PM mon@rch said...

such a wonderful story! It was great seeing it just float away like that! Normally when we let them go the just dive the second they see water and come back up about a mile away! Why do they have to come down in the worse spots!

On February 10, 2007 at 10:21 PM Susan Gets Native said...

Very, very cool.
That ranger was a whole lot nicer than the butt-heads in Maryland, huh?

On February 10, 2007 at 10:43 PM Anonymous said...

Been watching the SNL?

On February 12, 2007 at 11:35 AM SylvanB said...

This story and pictures brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

I check in with you and Julie first thing every morning.

BTW, Rhode Island is all excited over a pair of pink-footed geese!

Oona's lucky Granny

On February 12, 2007 at 2:43 PM Bill of the Birds said...

Thanks everyone! All I did was tag along and document the event. THough in past years I have had a hand (or two) in saving a few loons that got fooled by thinking a wet roadway was a river. I cringe to think of them landing on the hard surface when they expect soft water.

On February 14, 2007 at 7:10 PM Laughingrat said...

That's wonderful--I'm glad you got to be there for that, and doubly glad to hear about someone who cares enough to help